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Now that the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations have concluded, a lot of people across the political spectrum are going to have insightful and intelligent things to say about the agreement.  Their analyses may argue for opposing positions, but the public will be better off and more informed for having listened to any of them.  On the other hand, some opponents of the deal will rely on baseless fearmongering.

Fear of the unknown is a natural (and largely beneficial) human extinct.  When people feel like they don’t understand how something works, they’re more likely to imagine that it does something horrible.  This is why opponents of trade liberalization constantly exaggerate the secrecy of negotiations why they focus their rhetoric on things like transnational corporate agendas, loss of national sovereignty, or lower food safety—things that most people don’t understand very well but are afraid of. 

Most often, fantastic predictions about the consequences of free trade arguments are put forward by the Left.  They have claimed that the TPP will kill dolphins, allow corporations to bypass government regulations, cause global warming, or force us all to eat GMOs.  None of this is true, but anti-trade groups are making fairly persuasive arguments based on inaccurate and exaggerated claims.

Anti-trade groups on the political right use similar methods.  The easiest target for these groups has been apprehension among conservative voters over the intentions of President Obama, focusing on things like immigration and gun control.  Conservative protectionists adopted the term “Obamatrade” to refer—interchangeably, in order to profit from confusion—to the TPP, trade promotion authority, and even the WTO.  During the debate earlier this year over trade promotion authority, a number of politicians fell for the simplistic but inaccurate argument that TPA would enable Obama to secretly liberalize America’s immigration laws.

The most recent right-wing, anti-trade boogieman is the idea that the TPP will enable Obama to implement the Paris climate treaty without getting approval from Congress.  Unfortunately, this theory has gained traction among respectable commentators.  Most publicly, the National Review’s Kevin Williamson, an eloquent advocate for genuine free trade, cited the back door climate treaty theory as a reason free traders should oppose the TPP.

Since it’s already doing real damage to the public debate over the TPP, let me explain the theory and why it’s wrong.  The source of the theory appears to be an article at that was predictably picked up by  I’ve quoted the relevant parts below:

It turns out that Senator Jeff Sessions was correct when he said that the treaty creates a new legislative body called the “Commission,” a term meant to invoke the European Commission, known for its recent decision to require that all the countries of the European Union take in Moslem [sic] refugees from the Middle East.

Chapter 20, the environmental chapter of the TPP, already requires compliance with previous multilateral environmental agreements that have been negotiated. So, the terms of the climate treaty will likely be incorporated into the TPP when the Commission first meets after the TPP passes. This is more or less specified in Article 20.4 which states:

  1. The Parties recognise that multilateral environmental agreements to which they are party play an important role, globally and domestically, in protecting the environment and that their respective implementation of these agreements is critical to achieving the environmental objectives of these agreements. Accordingly, each Party affirms its commitment to implement the multilateral environmental agreements to which it is a party.

When President Obama finished negotiating the Iran Nuclear Deal, he went first to the UN Security Council, not to Congress, to get the deal approved. More or less the same thing could happen with the multilateral environmental agreement that Obama negotiates in Paris. It will be incorporated into the TPP, whether Congress agrees with its terms or not.

In summary, they’re claiming that the TPP creates a Commission that could amend the TPP at Obama’s urging to incorporate the climate agreement without Congressional approval, and so if Congress approves the TPP, it will open the door for Obama to unilaterally implement the climate treaty.

The theory relies on flatly inaccurate readings of the TPP’s text to concoct a complex conspiracy where none exists.

First, the “TPP Commission” is not a powerful legislative body that can alter the TPP agreement.  It is just a name for a meeting of the members’ representatives.  Chapter 27 of the TPP envisions the Commission meeting regularly to discuss certain topics.  It is not and will never become a supranational government unaccountably changing U.S. laws. 

Second, U.S. obligations under the TPP cannot be amended without Congress’s approval.  Chapter 30 of the agreement explains that any amendments must be “approved in accordance with the applicable legal procedures of each Party.”  That means it must be ratified by Congress.  The TPP doesn’t enter into force for the United States until it’s ratified by Congress, and amendments must follow the same procedures.  The TPP is not a conspiracy to bypass the U.S. Constitution.

Finally, Article 20.4 in the Environment Chapter does not require the United States to abide by any international environmental agreements.  It merely states that each party “affirms” its commitments under such agreements.  The provision is legally meaningless hortatory fluff.  In fact, one of the biggest complaints about the TPP from environmental activists is that it does not do what this theory claims.  The last four U.S. free trade agreements before the TPP did require parties to abide by their environment commitments under other treaties subject to dispute settlement.  The TPP intentionally does not.

The back door climate treaty theory may be well designed to scare conservatives who already distrust President Obama into opposing the TPP, but it is not supported by a well-reasoned argument.  

Needless to say, these sorts of exaggerations and conspiracy myths don’t help the debate.  There are, in fact, plenty of things actually in the TPP that free market advocates should oppose, though they may not be sufficient reasons to oppose the whole package.

How can you tell the difference between a reasonable complaint and a false one?  For starters, keep reading the Cato blog!  Cato scholars have been and will continue to highlight the positives and negatives of the TPP and free trade agreements generally.

But also, everyone should be especially skeptical of complaints that build on existing narratives—like Obama’s executive overreach—that are unrelated to trade policy.  These may be attempts to misdirect the debate away from relevant issues—like whether free trade is good—where popular opinion lines up with supporting the TPP.

The Department of Homeland Security has been pressuring state legislatures to implement our U.S. national ID law, the REAL ID Act. States are free to set their own policies because the DHS will always back down. But many state legislators don’t know that. They’re in a bind where they feel obligated to obey federal mandates, but they want to do right by the citizens of their states. Law-abiding Americans shouldn’t have to scrounge up long-lost identity documents, stand in line at DMVs, and see themselves entered into a national ID system just so they can carry a driver’s license.

So practical legislators are seeking that golden compromise, which the REAL ID Act seems to hold out. But watch your wallet, because a “non-federal” license may still be a national ID.

REAL ID permits the issuance of “non-federal” licenses and IDs. These can be issued without the many stringent, time-consuming, and annoying requirements of REAL ID. Such a card simply has to state clearly on its face that it may not be accepted by federal agencies for official purposes, and it must use unique designs or colors to indicate this.

But REAL ID also requires compliant states to give all other states access to the information contained in their motor vehicle databases. The law requires them to share all the data printed on the REAL ID cards, as well as driver histories, including motor vehicle violations, suspensions, and points on licenses.

That leaves an open question: Does the REAL ID Act require nationwide info-sharing on every licensee? Or just the licensees who carry REAL ID cards?

The question is important, because of the huge data security implications from exposing data about every driver to the motor vehicle bureau of every other state. A good reason to avoid REAL ID is to avoid the risk that a rogue DMV employee in any state can access the data of drivers in all the others. That’s a recipe for mass-scale identity fraud.

Drivers who are worried about identity fraud and their privacy should be able to opt out of this information sharing. While we’re at it, the privacy of security-conscious drivers could be protected if “non-federal” licenses came without the “machine-readable zone” that REAL ID requires. It allows easy collection of driver data and tracking with every swipe or scan of the card in a digital reader.

States should really resist REAL ID entirely. Congress should stop funding it and repeal the unnecessary and burdensome national ID law. But if there are to be “non-federal” IDs from compliant states, it would be nice if they offered Americans a way to opt out of the insecure information-sharing requirements in this national ID system.

Police body cameras are overwhelmingly popular across political and socio-economic demographics. However, while it is important to consider how the public views police body cameras, it is also worth noting what police law enforcement leadership thinks about the technology. Researchers from Florida Atlantic University and the University of West Florida have conducted a body camera survey on a small number of law enforcement leaders. The results show that half of police commanders would support body cameras being used in their agency and that two-thirds of commanders believe that the public supports body cameras because “society does not trust police officers.”

Survey participants were from Sunshine County, “a large southern county with 27 local law enforcement agencies, home to a number of state and federal law enforcement agencies, and a population of approximately 1.3 million people.” Each month, the leadership staff within the Sunshine County law enforcement community meet. Surveys were sent to the staff in March this year. Twenty-four surveys were completed.

The graph below shows how the respondents answered questions about the use of body cameras and their influence on police officer behavior. Fifty percent of the respondents support using body cameras in their department. The same percentage was also neutral when asked whether body cameras would improve officers’ behavior, although one-third agreed or strongly agreed.  


It is too early to say definitively how the use of police body cameras affects officers’ behavior. A widely cited body camera trial in Rialto, California found that the deployment of police body cameras was followed by a reduction in complaints and use-of-force incidents (see chart below).


However, Rialto’s experience has not been replicated in every city where body cameras have been used, and it is important to keep in mind that some of Rialto’s findings could be attributed to citizens changing their behavior around officers wearing body cameras rather than officers changing their behavior. Nonetheless, as I have argued before, police body cameras should be used regardless of the relative lack of data on their impact on officers’ behavior. 

The survey did show that a majority (54 percent) of respondents believe that body cameras will reduce the number of unwarranted complaints against officers. This isn’t surprising. Body camera footage has already proven useful in dismissing unwarranted complaints. For instance, body camera footage showed that a woman suspected of drunk driving had lied when she accused an Albuquerque, New Mexico police officer of sexual assault.

When it comes to use-of-force, police leaders are divided on whether body cameras will reduce officers’ use of excessive force, but a clear majority agree or strongly agree that body cameras “will impact police officers’ decisions to use force in encounters with citizens” (see graph below).


This isn’t surprising. Recently, there has been widespread coverage of police misconduct and the need for more accountability and transparency in law enforcement. Body camera footage or cell phone footage has proven invaluable in cases against officers involved in the killings of Walter Scott, Samuel DuBose, James Boyd, and 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis. Thanks to advances in technology, many instances of alleged police misconduct can be filmed and shared widely.

Videos of police encounters, of course, don’t just include bad behavior. Body camera footage has provided us with examples of police officers behaving appropriately in difficult circumstances. Nonetheless, 66.7 percent of the law enforcement leadership indicated in the survey that they strongly agree or agree that “The use of body-worn cameras is currently supported by the public because society does not trust police officers.”

Polling data from Gallup suggests that confidence in the police is declining. As the graph below shows, the portion of Americans who say that they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in police is the lowest it has been since 1993. In addition, the portion of Americans who say that they have “very little” confidence in the police is the highest it has been in twenty-two years. 


Of the 24 survey respondents, only three said that their agency was using body cameras. Those respondents who haven’t outfitted their officers with body cameras ought to consider that while public confidence in police is not as high as it once was, body cameras–when used with the right policies in place–offer an opportunity to highlight good policing while showing the public that they are committed to accountability and transparency. It’s an opportunity worth seizing. 

I’ve been watching “Childhood’s End” on the SyFy channel this week. I remember the book, a 1953 novel by Arthur C. Clarke, being a big deal when I was in junior high school. My bookish friends and I all read it. But I had little memory of the plot, so watching the show is an entirely new experience. It’s well done, mysterious, maybe a little slow. But I noticed one thing that reminds me that it was written by a British author educated in the first half of the 20th century.

The technologically superior alien Overlords arrive, take control of earth, and impose their rule on us without any real challenge. They announce that they will end war, poverty, and injustice. And they do, just like that. Sure, a few cranks in the #freedomleague complain that we’re not free, but nobody denies the peace, abundance, and good health that the Overlords have delivered. Earthlings don’t even have to work any more. That is, the book and the miniseries don’t even stop to ponder whether absolute centralized government – terrestrial or alien – could deliver more peace, harmony, and abundance than a market system. It’s just taken for granted. 

And that’s a common theme in mid-century sci-fi. In his Foundation series, Isaac Asimov imagined a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory that could predict the future. Because human action, taken en masse, can be predicted for millennia.

And as I wrote on Ira Levin’s death, his wonderful libertarian novel This Perfect Day reflected similar assumptions about centralization and government planning. The novel is set 141 years after the Unification, the establishment of a world government guided by a central computer. The computer, Uni, provides all the members of the human race with everything they need - food, shelter, employment, psychotherapy, and monthly “treatments” that include vaccines, contraceptives, tranquilizers, a drug to prevent messy beard growth, and a medication that reduces aggressiveness and limits the sex drive. Everyone loves Uni, which gives them everything they could want, except for a few hardy rebels who just value freedom.

But like Clarke and Asimov, Levin was caught in the intellectual milieu of his times. (The novel was published in 1970.) He understood the cost to freedom of a government that controlled and provided everything. But he did seem to believe that such central planning would be efficient. He had the rebels worry that if they managed to shut down Uni, planes would fall out of the sky, people would die, trains would crash, food wouldn’t get to the dinner table. In other words: centralized planning worked, in the view of Levin, Clarke, and Asimov.

In this starry-eyed view of the economic efficiency of planning, the authors were led by the world’s most famous economists. John Kenneth Galbraith, for instance, wrote, “the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast with the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower.” And Paul Samuelson wrote in his widely used textbook: “What counts is results, and there can be no doubt that the Soviet planning system has been a powerful engine for economic growth…. The Soviet model has surely demonstrated that a command economy is capable of mobilizing resources for rapid growth.” Actually, novelists writing in the 50s and 60s could be excused for their misconceptions more than Galbraith and Samuelson, economists who wrote those lines in the 1980s, only a few years before the final collapse of Soviet-style socialism.

In 1985, I had the economist Don Lavoie send Levin a copy of his fine book National Economic Planning: What Is Left?, inscribed something like “in the hopes of persuading you that central planning is no more workable than it is humane.”

I think some of the newer dystopian novels – such as Hunger Games, The Giver, and Divergence – are less prone to such misplaced confidence in planning. Those authors seem to realize that centralized control may benefit the planners, but it won’t make society prosperous. That probably reflects the failures of planning in both the communist countries and the western welfare states, which weren’t so obvious when the earlier authors were writing. Which is why writers at Salon and the Guardian keep complaining about dystopian novels and films that cause people to question the benevolence of the state.

Over a month ago — when Venezuelan’s were still living under the heel of Nicolás Maduro’s United Socialist party — Ilya Shapiro and I had a very interesting meeting with the folks behind DolarToday.  As the Wikipedia article concerning it explains, DolarToday  “is an American [nota bene] website that focuses on Latin American politics and finance.  The company is more known for being an exchange rate reference to the Venezuelan bolívar, a currency which is not freely convertible.”

My reason for attending the meeting was obvious enough: Venezuela has recently been suffering from the world’s highest inflation rate, making the Banco Central de Venezuela, Venezuela’s government-owned central bank, the current poster-child for government abuse of fiat money.  Ilya, on the other hand, was there because, besides being a senior fellow in Constitutional Studies at Cato and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review, he’s a lawyer.

You see, the Banco Central de Venezuela decided to sue DolarToday for “destabilizing” Venezuela’s currency.  That is, it claimed that the website, far from merely reporting the bolívar’s deterioration, was to blame for that deterioration and also for Venezuela’s general economic decline.

But hold on: doesn’t Wikipedia call DolarToday an “American” website?  It does indeed, and quite correctly.  The site is both Delaware-based and owned by U.S. citizens, who started it back in 2010.  But that hasn’t stopped the Venezuelan authorities from trying to shut it down, by filing their suit in Delaware’s U.S. District Court.

The lawsuit itself offers a remarkable glimpse at the twisted logic of totalitarian regimes.  The prologue to the plaintiff’s description of the action’s gravamen will give you the general idea:

How far will some go to enrich themselves (and their friends) and to regain the political power they crave to enrich themselves further?  Would they go so far as to hurt their own countrymen by making their already challenging lives even harder?  Defendants would.  And they have.

The 32-page suit goes on to accuse DolarToday’s owners of everything from racketeering and cyber-terrorism to attempting to overthrow Venezuela’s government.  Really you have got to read it to believe it.  If I hadn’t been told otherwise I’d have thought it a spoof.

Except there’s nothing funny about it.  Ludicrous as the suit is, the Venezuelan government isn’t laughing, which means that, although the odds of it making it to trial, much less of its ending with a decision for the plaintiff, are infinitely smaller than those of the Phillies winning the next three World Series, the defendants have got to…well, defend themselves.  That costs money.  And, despite what the Venezuelan suit alleges, the defendants aren’t rich — at least, they haven’t gotten so at Venezuela’s expense, through their website or otherwise.

But that’s not all.  The lawsuit is just one of several hardball tactics that the Venezuelan government employed in its effort to shut down DolarToday.  Back in July then-president Maduro accused the site’s owners of cyber-terrorism on national TV, threatening to have them extradited and given a dose of Venezuelan justice.  The Banco Central has also tried to take advantage of the “discovery process” connected to its suit to determine the identity of DolarToday’s anonymous Venezuelan owners and supporters, so as to be able to persecute them and their family members.

In case you are short of lawyers to hate, you will be delighted to know that Squire Patton Boggs, a U.S. law firm, is assisting the Banco Central in this noble undertaking.  So far it has pursued the case with great zeal, even going so far as to publish press releases repeating the cyber-terrorism charge along with the alleged terrorists photographs.  If that’s not enough to make you want to want to add the firm’s partners to your Valentine’s-card mailing list, consider that the same  firm also happens to be representing Campo Flores,  Maduro’s stepson, who has been indicted on drug trafficking charges by the U.S. Justice Department.

Just how much, I wonder, do top U.S. law firms charge these days per billable hour spent intimidating U.S. citizens and their friends, for the purpose of suppressing freedom of information?  Whatever it is, I’m sure the Central Bank of Venezuela can afford it.  After all, what’s a few more bolívars to them?

Alas, Cato’s Center for Monetary and Financial Alternatives can’t print its own money, yet.  But that doesn’t mean that we’re taking this lying down.  In fact, we are doing something just by drawing attention to what the Banco Central is up to.  But we are also making sure that, if anything should happen to DolarToday, it won’t do that bank or any other enemy of freedom a lick of good, because people will still be able to get all the information they want about the true state of Venezuela’s currency by looking it up on our own Troubled Currencies Project.  There they will find all the information that DolarToday itself supplies, and much more besides, all of it thanks to Cato Senior Fellow and FX-expert extraordinaire Steve Hanke.  Indeed, DolarToday just recently announced that it now relies entirely on Steve’s own estimates of Venezuela’s inflation rate.

So, if the Central Bank of Venezuela really wants to snuff-out information concerning its mismanagement of the bolívar, shutting down DolarToday just won’t cut it:  it’s going to have to shut us down as well.  So how ‘bout it, guys?  Our lawyers can’t wait!

[Cross-posted from]

The first issue of the Financial Time’s FTWeekend in December 2015 featured its regular “Lunch with the FT.” Richard Leakey was Clive Cookson’s luncheon guest, and Cookson’s account was appropriately titled “From Fossils to Film Stars.” Yes, Leakey, an accomplished paleontologist and son of Louis and Mary Leakey, has, like his parents, made many headline-grabbing fossil finds. He has also rubbed elbows with plenty of film stars. Just last month, Angelina Jolie and Leakey were in London, where they discussed plans for a movie in which Brad Pitt will portray Leakey.

At 70 years of age, Leakey is still going strong. Among other things, he is busy building the Turkana Basin Institute, which he founded, into a world-class research center on the site in northern Kenya where the Leakeys made many notable discoveries, including an almost complete 1.6 million-year-old skeleton known as Turkana Boy. But that’s not all Leakey is up to. Recently, he was appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta to chair the Kenya Wildlife Service, which Leakey founded and served as director-general from 1989-1994.

In addition to paleontology, Leakey has a passion for wildlife conservation. I learned of this during my first lunch with him in the spring of 1972. It was then that the anthropologist Neville Dyson-Hudson, an expert on East African pastoral peoples, and I broke bread with Leakey at the Johns Hopkins Faculty Club in Baltimore. I anticipated plenty of paleontology and anthropology, but those weren’t on the menu. The conversation quickly turned to the topic that most interested Leakey, and as it turns out, the reason why my former colleague Dyson-Hudson had invited me to lunch in the first place: the economics of natural resources.

Leakey had a vision of land use and wildlife resources in East Africa. His observation was that the East African savannahs were, in large part, common property resources. In addition, Leakey noted that the wildlife that roamed over these vast savannahs were fugitive common property resources. He concluded that, unless property rights could be established, both the savannahs and wildlife would eventually be destroyed. For him, this would be a great tragedy not only for the wildlife, but also the indigenous peoples living off the lands in East Africa.

Leakey questioned whether the current system – burdened with its common property problems and regulated by a very British-type system of hunting rules (charges for hunting licenses and penalties for unlicensed hunting, violations of closed seasons and the killing of protected species) – was sustainable. He also questioned whether parks and game reservations – coupled with restrictions on the trade of wildlife meat, skins, and trophies – would actually conserve wildlife. Leakey’s conjecture was: if property rights in the savannahs and wildlife resources could be established, they could be properly managed to enhance land-use productivity. This would, he conjectured, give wildlife economic value, save it from destruction, and enhance the economic well-being of those indigenous peoples who co-exist among the wildlife herds in East Africa.

Leakey wanted to know what I thought of his ideas. Could good property rights cut down on poaching and corruption, save wildlife and enhance the productivity of East Africa’s savannahs? Could well-managed game cropping, trophy hunting, tourism and so forth, coupled with pastoral herding, generate more prosperity than the current land-use arrangements? And could such a wildlife-oriented economy co-exist with traditional herding? On-and-on the questions flowed.

I responded that I thought Leakey was, in principle, on the right track, but that definitive answers about just how one would establish property rights in East Africa’s common property resources, as well as the economic values involved, were practical, empirical questions. Field work and the collection of primary data, among other things, would be required. In addition, I also recall telling Leakey that the questions he raised posed a complex production economics problem. On that point, I was certain. I had learned my lessons on production economics from one of my professors, the great John M. Cassels, an economist who had written a classic essay on that topic in 1936: “On the Law of Variable Proportions.”

Leakey responded positively: he invited me to prepare a research proposal, and subject to its approval, to join him at the National Museums of Kenya as a Research Associate.

I agreed and wrote a proposal, which was approved. In the summer of 1972, I arrived in Nairobi, where I took up residence at the Norfolk Hotel. In addition to spending hot days going over records of hunting licenses, ivory and game trophy export permits in Nairobi, I spent about a month in the field on safari. I have many memories of that. Two notable ones come to mind.

While camping in the Masai Mara National Reserve, I observed first-hand a great deal of poaching, some of it by government employees.  

I also ran into Joy Adamson of Born Free fame out in the bush. It was in the middle of the afternoon, so Adamson had her tracker and scout lay a fire, and we had tea. We spent an hour or so chatting about the economics of wildlife and conservation. Adamson gave my research project a thumbs up, which was very encouraging.

What was not encouraging were some of the findings in those records back in Nairobi. When I added up the number of hunting licenses issued each year and the export permits for ivory, etc., there was a huge gap. Legal exports of wildlife trophies, ivory, etc.–which were recorded at the Customs Department–exceeded hunting licenses issued by the Game Department by a wide margin. There was Trouble in Paradise. Indeed, all my arithmetic pointed to a massive amount of corruption at the very highest levels of government. When the Chief Game Warden figured out where my collection and analysis of (what were considered to be) rather obscure primary data were pointing, I became persona non grata. Shortly thereafter, I caught a flight from Nairobi to Switzerland, where the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is located.

It was at the WWF headquarters in Morges, Switzerland that I started to put some of my notes together. Eventually, many of my findings appeared in a piece I co-authored with Robert K. Davis and Frank Mitchell “Conventional and Unconventional Approaches to Wildlife Exploitation,” which was published in 1973. We concluded that the system of parks, protection, prohibitions on trade and traditional hunting rules and regulations – no matter how well intended – were destined to fail to generate prosperity and conserve wildlife. Only by establishing good property rights in land and wildlife will these resources be rendered valuable. Markets for them would then develop. In consequence, they would be wisely used, protected, and conserved. Prudent resource use is, as it always has been, all about property, prices, markets and legitimate trade.

If Leakey is to succeed during his second tour as the leader of the Kenya Wildlife Service, he must do something big, bold, and unconventional. To that end, he should revisit the findings of the research project he initiated many moons ago at Johns Hopkins.

According to four American researchers–(Baumann et al. (2015))–projections of ocean acidification, in which the average pH of the open ocean is predicted to decline by 0.3 pH unit over the next century, have “heightened the need to better understand the sensitivity of marine organisms to low pH conditions.” As a result, numerous ocean acidification experiments have been conducted on various marine organisms, producing a wide range of results. This “complexity of organism responses to elevated CO2,” continue Baumann et al., “appears to stem, in part, from insufficient knowledge and thus appreciation of the scales of natural pH variability experienced by marine organisms in their habitats.” Coastal environments, for example, generally experience greater fluctuations in pH than the open ocean. And since the majority of ecologically and economically important marine species spend a vast portion of their life cycles in coastal environments, the authors say there is a great need to “characterize [such] marine habitats in terms of their short- and long-term pH variability.”

In an effort to fill this knowledge gap, this team of researchers embarked on a journey to “characterize the patterns and magnitudes of diel [daily], seasonal, and interannual fluctuations in pH and dissolved oxygen (DO) in an undisturbed tidal salt marsh adjacent to Long Island Sound, using a multiyear, high-frequency data set.” Flax Pond (40.96°N, 73.14°W), a one square kilometer tidal salt marsh located on the north shore of Long Island Sound, served as the specific study site where data were collected between April 2008 and November 2012. And what did those data reveal?

As shown in Figure 1, large fluctuations in pH occurred at Flax Pond on both daily and seasonal time scales. The daily pH range varied from a low of 0.22 unit during the winter to a high of 0.74 unit in the summer. Seasonally, the highest pH values occurred in February (average of 8.19) and the lowest values (average of 7.59) occurred in August. Thus, average pH conditions in Flax Pond “decline from early spring until late summer by approximately 0.6 units” and “average diel [daily] pH fluctuations exceed 0.7 units and commonly approach one unit of magnitude in July and August.” Yet even more extreme fluctuations in pH were found to occur within a single tidal cycle. The right panel of Figure 1 presents a three-day record of detailed measurements that reveal a pCO2 fluctuation “between ~350 µatm and nearly 4,000 µatm within one tidal cycle.” Thus, within a few short hours, the marine life within Flax Pond was subjected to a pH fluctuation that reached values as low as 6.9, which is nearly 1 full pH unit below the predicted decline by the end of this century.

Figure 1. Left panel: monthly averages of the daily pH range from Flax Pond salt marsh, averaged across the period 2008-2012. Center panel: monthly mean pH values (black circles connected by the red line with ±1 SD shown in shading) from Flax Pond salt marsh averaged across the period 2008-2012. The blue line on the y-axis indicates the open ocean pH decline since the mid-1800s, while the red line indicates the projected decline between now and the end of the 21st century. Right panel: Variations in pH (lower panel, red line) and pCO2 (upper panel, green line) from Flax Pond salt marsh over five tidal cycles across a three day period in late July, 2012. Adapted from Baumann et al. (2015).

With respect to the cause of these large variations, Baumann et al. state they are chiefly biologic, the magnitude of which is “modulated by tides and the time of day, with the most acidic and hypoxic conditions occurring during low tide at the end of the night” due to community respiration. During the day, the pH rises as photosynthetic marine life assimilate CO2 and incoming water of a higher pH from the open ocean flows into the marsh from the incoming tide.

In discussing the implications of their findings, the American researchers note that the highly variable pH conditions observed in Flax Pond, though higher in magnitude, are characteristic of observations made in other coastal locations. However, such fluctuations have “yet to be adequately represented” in laboratory ocean acidification experiments, where the pH change is near unanimously held at a constant value and may falsely project a marine organism’s response to ocean acidification out in the real world of nature.

Perhaps the most significant finding to be gleaned from this analysis, however, is that fact that despite current daily and seasonal pH fluctuations that often exceed – and by more than two-fold – the projected 0.3 unit decline that acidification alarmists expect to wreak havoc on marine ecosystems between now and the end of the century. This salt marsh is teeming with life, including the marsh’s “main founding angiosperm Spartina alterniflora, … ribbed mussels (Geukensia demissa), crabs (Seasarma reticulatum, Uca pugnax, Uca pugilator, and Dyspanopeus sayi), and forage fish like Atlantic Silversides, Menidia menidia, and Killifish, Fundulus spp. (Hovel and Morgan 1997), which comprise major prey items for transient predators like striped bass or bluefish (Tupper and Able 2000). Clearly,” Baumann et al. continue, “such marsh organisms and their offspring cope with frequent periods of high CO2 and low oxygen conditions in their habitat, as well as with large diel to seasonal fluctuations in both parameters. Hence, many tidal salt marsh organisms and – more generally – coastal marine species may prove to be largely insensitive to elevated CO2 levels (Frommel et al. 2012; Hendriks et al. 2010; Hurst et al. 2013), particularly levels mimicking the predicted increase in average open ocean conditions over the next 300 years (i.e., up to 2,000 μatm; Riebesell et al. 2010).”



Baumann, H., Wallace, R.B., Tagliaferri, T. and Gobler, C.J. 2015. Large natural pH, CO2 and O2 fluctuations in a temperate tidal salt marsh on diel, seasonal, and interannual time scales. Estuaries and Coasts 38: 220-231.

Frommel, A., Schubert, A., Piatkowski, U. and Clemmesen, C. 2012. Egg and early larval stages of Baltic cod, Gadus morhua, are robust to high levels of ocean acidification. Marine Biology 160: 1825-1834.

Hendriks, I.E., Duarte, C.M. andÁlvarez, M. 2010. Vulnerability of marine biodiversity to ocean acidification: a meta-analysis. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 86: 157-164.

Hovel, K.A. and Morgan, S.G. 1997. Planktivory as a selective force for reproductive synchrony and larval migration. Marine Ecology Progress Series 157: 79-95.

Hurst, T.P., E.R. Fernandez, and J.T. Mathis. 2013. Effects of ocean acidification on hatch size and larval growth of walleye pollock (Theragra chalcogramma). ICES Journal of Marine Science 70: 812-822.

Riebesell, U., Fabry, V.J., Hansson, L. and Gattuso, J.P. 2010. Guide to best practices for ocean acidification research and data reporting. Publications Office of the European Union: 260.

Tupper, M. and Able, K.W. 2000. Movements and food habits of striped bass (Morone saxatilis) in Delaware Bay (USA) salt marshes: Comparison of a restored and a reference marsh. Marine Biology 137: 1049-1058.

Much is said these days about the mismatch of missions and resources for the military. A recent Rand Corporation report warned that failing to deploy a large enough Army could “lead to a failure of the U.S. strategy and subsequent regret.”

But as I point out in National Interest online, “the solution is not to spend more. It is to reassess foreign policy objectives. Better to scale back an over-ambitious strategy than to waste scarce resources pursuing dubious goals.”

For instance, Rand pointed to 2007-2008, when the Bush administration decided to increase combat forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The report explained: “Unfortunately, insufficient ground forces existed to meet the demands in both Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Yet what was achieved by both of these wars? The disastrous Iraq invasion was misguided from the start. Little more has been achieved in Afghanistan after14 year of nation-building.

The problem was not too few troops. It was the wrong objectives.

That continues to be the case. Rand addressed contingencies involving the Islamic State, Russia in the Baltics and Ukraine, and North Korea. To “limit regret” in confronting such challenges, Rand advocated adding more soldiers.

Better would be reducing requirements. After relying on America for decades, Washington’s defense dependents should do more to protect themselves.

First there’s the Middle East and the Islamic State. If the mission in these areas changes, noted Rand, then U.S. forces “would need to increase significantly.”

Yet Yemen long has been a mess and the Houthis have been fighting the central authorities for decades. There’s no reason to believe that keeping combat forces in Afghanistan for another year will do more than prolong failure.

As for ISIL, where are America’s supposed Arab allies? Most have essentially gone AWOL. Yet the Islamic State is essentially at war with every major country in the Middle East. Counting paramilitary forces, more than a million men are available to deal with a couple tens of thousands of ISIL fighters.

The second “threat” to the U.S. comes from Moscow. In the Rand analysts’ view, some 120,000 additional U.S. army personnel are required to confront possible Russian aggression.

Yet while the lawless dismemberment of Crimea offends Americans’ sense of justice, it threatens neither the U.S. nor Europe. As for garrisoning the Baltics, where are the Europeans? The European Union has a larger population and economy than America.

Finally, there’s North Korea. Even Rand acknowledged that “a wealthy and technologically advanced South Korea can now provide well-trained and armed forces to defeat a conventional invasion.” But the researchers cited the North’s artillery, missiles, and unconventional capabilities and feared collapse would leave nuclear materials vulnerable to theft.

Nearly 200,000 extra U.S. soldiers could be needed.

But where are the South Koreans? With around 40 times the economic strength and twice the population, they could put more men under arms.

And how about neighboring states? The studious refusal of the South Koreans and Japanese to cooperate depends on Washington’s continuing willingness to step into the gap.

Moreover, China would not be comfortable with 150,000 U.S. soldiers heading toward the Yalu. Beijing might intervene to preserve a puppet rump state, keep U.S. forces away from the border, and collect nuclear materials.

Pushing defense responsibilities back on those who actually are threatened is the best way to close the strategy-resource mismatch. Rand’s objection is striking: “this approach ignores the fact that the most capable U.S. allies are currently cutting their ground forces more than we are and that they rely on U.S. ground forces for much of the combat and logistics support they receive during deployed operations.”

Yes, because Washington allows them to do so. But if they won’t defend themselves, why should Washington do so?

Facing an entitlement tsunami, Americans soon will have little choice but to expect their foreign “friends” to do more. The U.S. should start shifting defense responsibilities now.

There is a supposed “secret policy” that prevented consular and immigration officers from checking Tashfeen Malik’s social media accounts where she wrote about jihad (possibly under a pseudonym or in personal messages).  If her statements were discovered then she would have been denied a visa, preventing the atrocity.  This is getting a lot of attention on blogs and Secretary Jeh Johnson responded by saying that there are certain limits that probably apply to personal messages although he’s unclear. 

After following this controversy, I heard from five different immigration attorneys that there is no such secret policy and their clients’ routinely have their social media accounts checked by immigration officials – or at least have heard of it happening. 

Matthew Kolken of Kolken and Kolken in Buffalo, New York told me:

The first time I confirmed that the government was investigating social media was around 2009 when an adjudicator at a marriage fraud interview confronted my client with a series of pictures he was tagged in on Facebook. The only person more surprised than me was his wife when she saw that the pictures were posted by his girlfriend the previous weekend.  The silver lining is that when the officer witnessed my client’s rage he approved the application on the spot.

Charles Kuck at Kuck Immigration Partners in Atlanta, Georgia wrote:

USCIS and other government immigration agencies have been using social media for at least the last five years in naturalization, green card, and visa cases.  It is disingenuous of USCIS to now say they have not used information gleaned from these sites to question and even deny applications.  We have advised clients for years of this practice by USCIS, ICE, and other DHS agencies as well as by the Department of State.

Greg Siskind at Siskind Susser PC wrote:

We’ve heard anecdotally for years about how immigration examiners will look at social media and scour the Internet when adjudicating a case and I’ve told clients to assume that their online history is being reviewed.  But the immigration bar’s understanding of this has been vague – when it happens, what they’re looking for, what sites they’ll look at, whether they have a way of looking at password-protected pages, etc.  We did just hear from a client who is applying for naturalization who received an inquiry from the FBI regarding his posting a statement where he actually denounced terrorism.

Aileen Josephs wrote:

The USCIS office in West Palm Beach, Florida has and continues to explore social media (Facebook) with marriage cases.  Before the interview, they do in fact explore postings to see if the marriage is bona fide. The excuse that the Administration is giving that they do not have a policy of using social media is incorrect.  They have and they do.  The question is why did they not use it in the US Embassy in Pakistan?  Who interviewed Ms. Malik at the Embassy?  An American State department official or a paid, local that works at the Embassy?  So many questions that need to be answered.

Bryan Johnson at Amoachi and Johnson, PLLC told me:

I don’t have any anecdotes of clients being confronted with information from their Facebook profiles but the federal government’s claim that it would be impossible to vet social media accounts of visa applicants is implausible at best.  The government has time to interview every applicant in person so therefore they would have time to do a brief social media search – it takes about two minutes.

I’m not convinced this “secret policy” to ignore social media is real after hearing from these professionals.  Here’s to hoping that reporters will seek to verify whether such a policy exists. 

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) follows retired Tom Coburn in reporting on the ludicrous waste of taxpayer dollars in Washington with “Wastebook 2015: The Farce Awakens.” Alas, the waste never sleeps, despite the supposed austerity that we hear so much about.

For instance, the National Institutes of Health spent about $10 million on studies of monkeys on treadmills. The results are to help “address physiological responses of exercise in a marmoset model.”

The Agency for International Development dropped $2.1 million on tourism promotion for Lebanon. Last May the State Department issued a travel advisory urging Americans to avoid this neighbor of Syria “because of ongoing safety and security concerns.”

The National Institutes of Health used $5 million to convince “hipsters” to stop smoking. Parties were organized for and payments were made to persuade Hipsters to quit tobacco.

The National Science Foundation provided $5 million to figure out how long a “koozie” would keep a beer cold. Researchers instructed drinkers not to wipe off condensation drops, which would warm the drink.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse spent almost $1 million to learn that pizza may be as addictive as crack cocaine. At least to college students. Perhaps the Obama administration plans a War on Pizza?

The Department of Agriculture (known as USDA) devoted $119 million in 2015 to underwrite the tobacco industry. Whose prime product the government is paying Hipsters not to use.

NSF provided $276,194 to figure out the impact of physical attraction on dating. Spoiler alert: physical attractiveness helps.

The Department of Defense, with nothing else in the world to do, is spending $2 million to develop music-playing robots. Both trumpet and jazz.

USDA provided $79,000 for a “Broadway and Brunch” party in Redlands, California to promote local farmers. Guests got to sing their favorite show tunes.

NSF shows up again with $2.6 million to promote the use of art for science. Like mimicking moisture vaporizers from the first Star Wars movie.

NSF dropped nearly a million dollars to study how online dating affects relationships. It does.

SBA provided $8500 to Circus Mojo, a Kentucky traveling circus, to travel. The players joined the governor on a trade mission to Canada.

USDA offered a $55,000 grant to study the potential of commercial reindeer herding in Alaska. Industry officials say the biggest problem in meeting existing demand has been department regulations governing what it labels “game meat.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency paid $180,000 to elevate a beachfront cottage five feet. After spending $40,000 a few years before to raise the building three feet.

NSF spent $2.6 million studying why tweets are retweeted. It helps to be a celebrity and write well.

NSF dropped nearly a million bucks to study fighting by mantis shrimp. Size didn’t always determine the winner.

The Department of State spent $35,000 on a grant to promote cartooning in India. Which, the Department admitted, already has “a rich history of cartooning.”

NSF gave $185,000 to help New York’s Ithaca College host a “Back to the Future Day.” It featured action figures on hoverboards.

USDA devoted nearly a million dollars to Vermont Law School’s “How to Use a Lawyer” guide. The law school called it “vital work.”

NASA provided $3 million for a mock trip to Mars filmed in Hawaii. Conclusion: personality conflicts arise in when people are stuck together for an extended time.

USDA spent $5 million on the “Ultimate Tailgating Package” for fans attending a University of Nebraska football game. No one ever accused Cornhusker fans of not knowing how to tailgate.

On the waste goes. Money for a robot lobby greeter, fat detector, sexist anti-drunk driving campaign, “ethanol blender pumps,” piñata appreciation, “Boat to Plate” app for fish eaters, reader recommendations for library patrons, and more.

For most of us, as I point out in American Spectator, “the loss of a few thousand or million dollars matters. But obviously not in the nation’s capital. It’s time for voters to change that.”

The Federal Reserve is set to act this week to raise short-term interest rates.  There are a number of technical and policy questions raised by this long-anticipated decision.  The Fed conventionally raises short-term interest rates by selling short-term Treasury obligations.  It no longer owns any short-term Treasuries to sell.

Based on prior statements, the Fed is expected to increase the interest rate on reserves held by commercial banks at Federal Reserve banks.  The Fed is operating in uncharted waters.  It is not clear how increasing interest on reserves will affect other short-term interest rates.  Further, the Fed is already paying commercial banks over $6 billion in interest payments annually.  That amounts to a fiscal transfer from taxpayers to bankers.  Raising rates will only increase that transfer.  As we approach a presidential election year, that is likely to become grist for political mills.

The Fed could also raise the interest rate on reverse repurchase agreements at a facility at the New York Fed.  The Fed is effectively borrowing money from financial institutions like money market funds.  It functions as a subsidy to those institutions, as the Federal Reserve System has no business or policy reason for borrowing money.  Once again, I would anticipate political questioning of such a move.

Free-market economists are in a policy conundrum.  Most have long advocated higher interest rates.  But the facilities through which that policy will now be effected have questionable validity.  Some of the same economists advocating higher short-term rates have also been critical of the Fed’s payment of interest on reserves.  Those economists must now ask for more of something they wanted none of.  Operational considerations are confounding substantive policy.

All of the above is a consequence of the Fed’s having implemented extraordinary monetary policy.  That included shedding all liquid, short-term Treasury obligations in favor of loading up on risky and illiquid, long-term debt obligations.  Critics argued the Fed would rue the day it did that.  Now that day has arrived.

[Cross-posted from]

Today is Bill of Rights Day. So it’s an appropriate time to consider the state of our constitutional safeguards.

Let’s consider each amendment in turn.

The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” Government officials, however, have insisted that they can gag recipients of “national security letters” and censor broadcast ads in the name of campaign finance reform and arrest people for simply distributing pamphlets on a sidewalk.

The Second Amendment says the people have the right “to keep and bear arms.” Government officials, however, make it difficult to keep a gun in the home and make it a crime for a citizen to carry a gun for self-protection.

The Third Amendment says soldiers may not be quartered in our homes without the consent of the owners. This safeguard is one of the few that is in fine shape – so we can pause here for a laugh.

The Fourth Amendment says the people have the right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. Government officials, however, insist that they can conduct commando-style raids on our homes and treat airline travelers like prison inmates by conducting virtual strip searches.

The Fifth Amendment says that private property shall not be taken “for public use without just compensation.” Government officials, however, insist that they can use eminent domain to take away our property and give it to other private parties who covet it.

The Sixth Amendment says that in criminal prosecutions, the person accused is guaranteed a right to trial by jury. Government officials, however, insist that they can punish people who want to have a trial—“throwing the book” at those who refuse to plead guilty—which explains why 95 percent of the criminal cases never go to trial.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial in civil cases where the controversy “shall exceed twenty dollars.” Government officials, however, insist that they can impose draconian fines on people without jury trials.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishments. Government officials, however, insist that a life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense is not cruel.

The Ninth Amendment says that the enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights should not be construed to deny or disparage others “retained by the people.” Government officials, however, insist that they will decide for themselves what rights, if any, will be retained by the people.

The Tenth Amendment says that the powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the states, or to the people. Government officials, however, insist that they will decide for themselves what powers they possess, and have extended federal control over health care, crime, education, and other matters the Constitution reserves to the states and the people.

It’s a disturbing snapshot, to be sure, but not one the Framers of the Constitution would have found altogether surprising. They would sometimes refer to written constitutions as mere “parchment barriers,” or what we call “paper tigers.” They nevertheless concluded that having a written constitution was better than having nothing at all.

The key point is this: A free society does not just “happen.” It has to be deliberately created and deliberately maintained. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. To remind our fellow citizens of their responsibility in that regard, the Cato Institute has distributed more than six million copies of our pocket Constitution. At this time of year, it’ll make a great stocking stuffer.

Let’s enjoy the holidays (and remember many of the positive trends that are underway) but let’s also resolve to be more vigilant about defending our Constitution. To learn more about Cato’s work in defense of the Constitution, go here. To support the work of Cato, go here.

Some prominent conservatives like Larry Kudlow, David Bossie, and Ann Coulter have now called for a complete moratorium on immigration because of the threat of Islamic terrorism.  However, they all focus on the benefits and neglect the costs of such a policy.  An immigration moratorium will cost the U.S. economy about $200 billion annually on net, even if it is successful at significantly reducing terrorism.

Costs of Terrorism and the Benefits of an Immigration Moratorium

According to the New America Foundation, jihadists have killed 45 Americans on U.S. soil since 9/11.  John Mueller estimates that each murder by jihadists costs about $15 million – double that of other deaths.  That means the cost of jihadist terrorism on American soil, just taking in to account the loss of life, is about $50 million a year since 9/11.  Let’s double that to $100 million to try and take account of other costs, excluding counter-terrorism spending. 

Under the most pessimistic assumptions, 73 percent of convicted terrorists in the decade after 9/11 were foreign-born.  Assuming that those 73 percent of immigrant terrorists are responsible for 73 percent of the jihadist murders since 9/11, their annual cost is $73 million.  At best, assuming there are no immigrant terrorists currently in the United States, the benefits of reducing terrorism via an immigration moratorium are $73 million annually.       

Costs of a Moratorium

Of course, measuring just the benefits of a moratorium is only half of the relevant calculation.  We must also estimate the economic costs of a moratorium on all future immigration.  Professor Benjamin Powell of Texas Tech University estimated the economic costs of a total immigration moratorium at $229 billion annually – $193 billion in rent-seeking costs and an additional loss of the conservatively estimated $36 billion annual immigration surplus.  Powell’s estimate is remarkably similar to Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda’s related estimate that removing 11 million unauthorized immigrants would lower GDP over a ten period by $2.6 trillion (Powell’s ten-year cost is $2.3 trillion).

For the purposes of this projection, I’m going to round down the economic costs of a moratorium to a mere $200 billion annually.  Thus, an immigration moratorium that eliminates 73 percent of Islamic terrorism in the U.S. will produce a net cost to our economy of $199,927,000,000 a year.  Under the current threat faced by Islamic terrorism, the cost of a moratorium is about 2000 times as great as the benefits under assumptions that greatly exaggerate the threat and undercount the costs.  A moratorium produces huge economic costs for very minor benefits. 

When Is a Moratorium Worth It?

There are situations where a total moratorium on immigration would be a cost effective counter-terrorism measure, assuming there are no cheaper or more effective security options available.   

For an immigration moratorium that costs the U.S. economy $200 billion annually and reduces the number of terrorist murders by 73 percent, it would have to prevent 800 San Bernardino-sized terrorist attacks each year (73 percent of the 1,096) just to break even as a counter-terrorism policy – leaving 296 additional attacks a year undeterred (see Table 1, row 4).  If we lived in such a dire security situation then 15,344 Americans inside of the United States would be murdered each year by Islamic terrorists and we would be suffering almost 5.6 San Bernardino-level attacks per week.  As tragic and brutal as the San Bernardino terrorist attack was, we can all be grateful that it is rare and that the number Americans actually murdered by jihadists every year is about one-five-thousandth of that number.            

Table 1

Breakeven Costs of Terrorist Attacks and Immigration Moratorium

Risk Reduction (Percent)

San Bernardino

Boston Marathon

September 11th

































Source: Table design and formulas from CHASING GHOSTS by John Mueller and Mark Stewart, pp. 140-147.  Mueller and Stewart estimated the costs for the Boston Marathon and 9/11 attacks while I estimated the costs for Fort Hood and San Bernardino.      


A moratorium on all immigration to reduce the threat of Islamic terrorism will cost about $200 billion a year more than it will produce in benefits under the very generous, and unrealistic, assumptions I’ve made here.  Security is an important service vital to the maintenance and prosperity of every civilization but we must still judge its worth using the same economic cost-benefit tools we apply to every other decision.      

Although the threat from immigrant-caused terrorism is low, some small immigration reforms like allowing immigration agents to search social media or to focus their efforts entirely on detecting security concerns rather than fake marriages will be far more cost effective than a $200 billion annual immigration moratorium.  Perhaps we should try those cheaper methods first? 

Would more vigorous antitrust enforcement reduce income inequalityHow should genetically modified organisms be regulatedHow should government regulate speech by professionals?

The answers to these questions can be found in the Winter issue of Regulation.

The short answer to the first question is no.  For the longer answer read Professor Dan Crane’s article.  The short answer to the second question, provided by Henry Miller and John J. Cohrssen, is that the regulation of biotechnology should be proportional to the risks it creates.  And those are generally less than the risks created by traditional cross breeding techniques that are widely accepted and unregulated.  Tim Sandefur rhetorically answers the third question by asking why can government regulate professionals’ speech, when non-professionals can freely engage in the same speech though they lack the professional expertise?

In another article on professional speech, University of Michigan, Flint professor Thomas Hemphill explores the implications of recent court rulings about what manufacturers can “say” to health professionals about so-called “off-label” uses of prescription drugs.

Many believe that early-childhood-intervention programs reduce the educational achievement gap between low-income and other children.  Many of these programs have been subject to random-assignment evaluation and the results often do not show positive effects.  Even though all policy professionals support the use of scientific evaluation of social programs in theory, many have resisted the implications of negative evidence for the particular programs they favor.  University of Missouri Law professor Philip Peters examines the evaluation of such programs and argues we should follow the evidence and terminate those programs that do not work.

Cal State, Northridge economist Robert Krol finds that transportation project projections consistently under predict costs by at least 25 percent.  They also over predict rail passenger traffic and under predict road utilization.  And these errors have not improved over time.

In “Using Delegation to Promote Deregulation” legal scholar Michael Rappaport argues that while libertarians would prefer that Congress enact statutes with explicit instructions for agencies, most laws delegate policy problem definitions and solutions to agencies.  Because efforts to fight Congressional delegation to agencies appear ill-fated, Rappaport advocates the creation of a special agency that would have the same incentives and abilities to deregulate that regulatory agencies have to regulate.

The review section contains reviews of books on a range of interesting topics. Included are reviews of Edwards Stringham’s new book Private Governance by Thomas Hemphill, Christopher and Rachel Coyne’s Flaws and Ceilings by David Henderson, and George Leef’s review of Daniel DiSalvo’s Government Against Itself.

Finally, my Working Papers column this issue describes papers on air pollution, CAFE standards, and cigarette taxation.

Read the full issue here.

There has a recent surge of allegations that the underlying motive for outrages such as the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino is that radical Islamists hate Western values. Senator Marco Rubio is perhaps the most blatant in pushing that thesis. One of his campaign commercials asserts flatly that such violent extremists target us because we let women drive and girls attend school.

That argument is simply an updated version of the meme that President George W. Bush highlighted in the period following the 9-11 attacks. According to Bush and his supporters, Islamists hated us “because of our freedoms.” Just nine days after the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bush addressed Congress and emphasized that theme. “They hate our freedoms,” he said, “our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” Such an argument was simplistic and misleading then, and it is simplistic and misleading now.

That is not to say that it is impossible to find a jihadist somewhere who is so unhinged that he would want to slaughter Americans simply because of a virulent hatred of Western culture. But even the bipartisan commission that investigated the 9-11 attacks conceded that the primary driving force for Islamist terrorism was anger at U.S.-led foreign policy in the Middle East. And there were no pacifists, “blame America first” types, or “isolationists” on that commission. The members made the grudging admission that Western actions in the Middle East were root cause of Islamic terrorist blowback because there was overwhelming evidence that it was true.

The Marco Rubios of the world act as though Western policy and the wreckage it has caused in the Muslim world is an irrelevant factor with respect to terrorism. But the United States and its allies have been meddling extensively throughout the region for decades. Indeed, beginning with the military intervention in Lebanon in 1982, they have been almost continuously imposing punishing economic sanctions on, bombing, or invading Muslim countries. Such conduct, and the acute suffering it has caused, might have a little something to do with the rage that is now directed at the West.

Indeed, there are more than a few hints of that motive from the statements of radical Islamic operatives. Osama Bin Laden responded directly to Bush’s facile argument that al-Qaeda attacked the United States because of a hatred of Western values. Bin Laden noted that his group had not attacked countries such as Sweden. That was true even though Scandinavian culture (especially its liberal sexual mores) was far more offensive than American culture to conservative practitioners of Islam. The reason for the restraint, Bin Laden emphasized, was that Sweden had not attacked Muslim countries. Indeed, he stated categorically that “any nation that does not attack us will not be attacked.”

It is also pertinent to remember the words of the terrorist gunmen at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris. They did not shout out: “This is because you let women drive!” Instead, they shouted: “This is for Syria!” France (along with the United States and other Western allies) had been bombing areas controlled by ISIS in Syria for more than a year. The Paris attacks were bloody payback.

Lest the usual flock of neoconservative hawks try to distort this analysis as a “justification” for terrorism, let’s make it perfectly clear: deliberately attacking innocent civilians is never justified, no matter what the underlying grievance. But stressing that point is far different from pretending that there is no underlying grievance, which is what Rubio and his ideological cohorts are attempting to do.

Ending the U.S.-led policy of militarized meddling in the Middle East might not mean the end of radical Islamic terrorism directed against the West—at least not immediately. But the old adage that when you find yourself in a hole, your first action should be to stop digging, applies here. As a first step, we need to stop pursuing the policies that have produced such catastrophic blowback.

Thirty years ago, in the case Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank (1985), the Supreme Court created a rule that effectively bars regulatory-takings plaintiffs from ever receiving the just compensation they are due under the Fifth Amendment. Williamson County’s noxious rule says that federal courts won’t hear Takings Clause claims until the state has not only issued a final order taking the plaintiff’s property but the plaintiff has been denied just compensation after seeking it “through the procedures the State has provided for doing so.”

This state-litigation requirement means that when the government issues a regulation that diminishes property values—for instance, by saying that the owner can’t do any excavation on rocky terrain that can’t be developed without it, as was the case in Arrigoni Enterprises v. Town of Durham—the landowner can’t file its claim in federal courts until it has lost in state court. Not only does this state-litigation rule severely delay the landowner’s remedy; in most cases, it means that the taking will go unremedied altogether.

One reason to have federal courts is to ensure that citizens whose rights have been violated by their state can have their rights vindicated by a truly impartial judge. The state-litigation requirement, however, often prevents federal courts from ever seeing such cases because a number of legal doctrines intended to promote fairness and efficiency bar the plaintiff from even seeking redress in federal court after a state court has already considered the matter. This means that the only way for many plaintiffs to get federal judicial review is to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take their case after exhausting state courts—an uphill battle to say the least.

Arrigoni Enterprises decided not to pursue its federal Takings Clause claim in state court, and thereby presents the Supreme Court with the opportunity to overrule Williamson County’s state litigation requirement once and for all. Cato has filed a brief supporting Arrigoni’s petition. We argue that Williamson County’s rule was not tenable when written and has proven unworkable. The rule relegates Takings Clause claims to second-class status among other federal constitutional provisions, even though these claims are no more premature and state courts have no greater experience to address them than any other constitutional claims.

Four justices indicated 10 years ago in San Remo Hotel v. San Francisco (2005) that they would be willing to reconsider the wisdom of the state-litigation requirement in an appropriate case. That case has arrived, but if the Court declines to overrule the requirement outright it should at least resolve the current circuit split by ruling that the state-litigation rule is merely prudential such that federal courts can disregard it under the right circumstances and hear Takings Clause cases not litigated through state courts. 

This post, and the brief it discusses, was co-authored by Cato legal associate Jayme Weber.

The federal government owns more than one quarter of the land in the nation, about 640 million acres. The holdings are concentrated in the West, where it owns about half of the 11 westernmost states.

The policy issues surrounding federal land are complex, but there is a good argument that much of the land would be better managed, and would generate more value for Americans, if it was transferred to state governments and the private sector. There is a movement in the West to gain more local control over federal lands because the economic and environmental decisions made in faraway Washington often do no reflect local needs. Randy O’Toole and I wrote about some of these issues here.

The “action fund” of the Center for American Progress (CAP) recently issued a study on federal land issues. If you want an example of how D.C. policy debates can become harsh and mean-spirited, this is it. I don’t know how the two political parties will come together on reforming anything if leading liberal organizations like this one are spreading such vitriol.

Here are some of the words and phrases that CAP uses for those favoring devolving or privatizing federal lands: “radical,” “fringe,” “reckless,” “Koch brothers,” “anti-government extremists,” “land seizure movement,” “far right wing,” “white supremacists,” “militias,” “extreme antigovernment beliefs,” “extreme elements,” “dog-whistle language,” “fossil fuel interests,” “fringe militia groups,” “radical members of the Republican base.”  I’m surprised they didn’t throw in cannibals, bloodsuckers, and Nazis.  

The purpose of the report seems to be to tie GOP presidential candidates to these phrases. It includes quotes from the candidates on land issues, presumably the most extreme ones they could find. Carly Fiorina is quoted, “The federal government does a lousy job of managing forests. The private sector does a much better job of managing forests. The federal government controls too much land in this country.” They quote Ted Cruz saying, “We should be reducing the amount of federal land that the BLM controls and the amount of land that the federal government owns.” And CAP says that Chris Christie even wanted to contract out management of New Jersey’s state golf courses and park concessions. Wow, extreme stuff!

The weird thing about the report is that the coauthors, Nicole Gentile and Matt Lee-Ashley, seem to have experience on federal land issues. They should know that there is some policy agreement on many land and resource issues between small-government conservatives and libertarians on the one hand, and liberals and environmentalists on the other. The underpricing of federal resources—such as water, timber, and grazing land— is seen as bad policy by experts across the political spectrum. Libertarians and environmentalists also agree on the negative environmental effects of farm subsidies, and on the poor environmental record of federal agencies such as the Department of Energy and Army Corps of Engineers.

From a historical perspective, devolving or privatizing federal lands is not the least bit radical or extreme. For the nation’s first century and a half, the general policy of the government was to unload federal lands by giving them away or selling them to state governments, businesses, and individuals.

As CRS discusses in this report, the federal government privatized 792 million acres of land between 1781 and 1940. One of the “radical” and “extremist” privatizers during that era was Abraham Lincoln, who signed into law the Homestead Act of 1862. On top of those transfers, the federal government has handed over to state governments 470 million acres of land over the decades.   

In sum, the CAP report is embarrassing. The authors seem unable to believe that nonliberals could be concerned about the environment and sound land management. In reality, the authors’ end goals on such policies may overlap with the supposed extremists they decry more than they realize.

This is the seventh and likely final entry in a series on the expansion of educational choice policies in 2015. As I noted at the outset, the Wall Street Journal declared 2011 “The Year of School Choice” after 13 states enacted new school choice laws or expanded existing ones. As of my last update in late September, 15 states had adopted 21 new or expanded educational choice programs, including three education savings account laws, clearly making 2015 the “Year of Educational Choice.” As I wrote previously:

ESAs represent a move from school choice to educational choice because families can use ESA funds to pay for a lot more than just private school tuition. Parents can use the ESA funds for tutors, textbooks, homeschool curricula, online classes, educational therapy, and more. They can also save unused funds for future educational expenses, including college.

Readers will find a complete tally of the new and expanded programs at the bottom of this post, as well as a list of anti-school-choice lawsuits decided in 2015 or still pending.

Lawmakers across the nation are already beginning to consider educational choice proposals for the 2016 legislative session, including Maryland, OklahomaSouth Dakota, TennesseeTexas, and several others, but Florida will likely be the first state to expand choice next year. 

Florida: Expanded Choice on the Horizon But Legal Threats Loom 

Florida’s legislature is currently considering legislation to expand both the number and types of students who are eligible to receive ESAs, known in Florida as Personalized Learning Scholarship Accounts. The legislation has already cleared committees in both the Florida House and Senate, but the legislation is not expected to reach the governor’s desk until the new year.

Meanwhile, a Florida judge delivered a partial legal victory to families using tax-credit scholarships. Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds ruled that petitioners in a lawsuit contending that the state is not adequetely funding district schools do not have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s scholarship tax credit law. However, the judge allowed the petitioners to proceed in their challenge to the constitutionality of the McKay Scholarships for students with special needs. The petitioners may also present any evidence that either of the choice programs contribute to what they argue is the inadequate level of funding of district schools. That will be a hard case to make, given that Florida’s nonpartisan Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability estimated that the state saves $1.44 for every $1.00 in reduced revenue resulting from the tax credits. Likewise, a Friedman Foundation fiscal analysis calculated that the McKay Scholarships have saved the state more than $835 million over 12 years.

The scholarship tax credit law is also still facing a second legal challenge to its constitutionality. 

Pennsylvania: Budget Stalemate Threatens Scholarships

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania appeared poised to expand the amount of tax credits available for its two scholarship programs. Now, however, a stalemate over budget negotiations has jeopardized even this year’s tax credits because some state officials say the state cannot award the credits without a state budget:

Approval letters have not gone out to businesses for the 2015-16 year.

“Without those approval letters, businesses are not going to be willing to write those checks without knowing they’re going to get credit for it,” said Aaron Anderson, CEO and Head of School at Logos Academy. “By Dec. 31 if this hasn’t happened, they’re going to have to pay their tax bills.”

Jeff Sheridan, spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf, said letters can’t go out until there is a 2015-16 state budget. Without a budget, the state doesn’t know what limits will be put on the amount of tax credits that can be legally issued, he said.

“The Department of Community and Economic Development has been accepting and reviewing all applications and is prepared to issue award letters as soon as possible once there’s a budget,” he said.

However, proponents of the choice laws disagree with that interpretation. According to Ina Lipman, executive director of Children’s Scholarship Fund Philadelphia, the scholarship tax credit laws require the state to issue the credits whether or not the state adopts a new budget:

“This is not a matter of appropriation that needs yearly approval,” Lipman said. “So many of the arguments that Gov. Wolf’s administration are setting forth are smokescreens. The governor is in full control of whether the DCED can issue these approval letters and issue them in time for this tax credit year and not jeopardize so many organizations that are really in the field to help low-income children to gain access to educational opportunities across the board.”

More than 40,000 low-income students depend on the tax-credit scholarships, so community leaders are speaking out and holding prayer vigils and rallies to encourage lawmakers to take action. If legislators fail to reach a budget compromise or fix the issue outside of the budget process, it’s not only the scholarship students who will suffer. The state would soon find that failure to approve the credits was a costly error. According to a 2014 Show-Me Institute report, if every scholarship student were to enroll at their local district school instead, the schools “would require an additional $892 million in revenue to handle the additional enrollment.”  

Montana and Colorado: Exclusion of Religious Schools Invites Lawsuits

Earlier this year, Montana adopted a new scholarship tax credit law. Unfortunately, not only did the law have several flaws that will limit the ability of scholarship organizations to raise money and issue scholarships, but bureaucrats at the Montana Department of Revenue (DOR) unilaterally decided to forbid scholarship organizations from granting scholarships to students to attend religious schools. Legislators who passed the law are not pleased. According to a poll of Montana legislators, a majority believe the revenue department officials are not following the legislature’s intent. 

The Montana DOR officials claim that the state’s constitution prohibits using tax-credit scholarships at religious schools, but the state attorney general’s office sent a letter to the DOR advising them that they are in error:

The DOR has proposed excluding religious schools from the rule on the grounds that the Montana Constitution bars appropriations to sectarian schools, organizations or affiliated groups.

However, in his letter, [Solicitor General Dale] Schowengerdt argues, “The Montana Constitution does not authorize, much less require, the wholesale exclusion of religious entities from being considered qualified education providers under SB 410.”

He later argues that the rule’s rationale “that the Montana Constitution requires categorical exclusion of religious entities from SB 410’s tax credit program is in error because the tax credit envisioned by SB 410 is not a direct or indirect appropriation by the state to a religious entity.” And he said it excludes religious entities from a neutral benefits program without good reason.

Schowengerdt said Attorney General Tim Fox did not believe the proposed rule would be defensible in court.

The attorney general’s office also warned the DOR that it is their proposed rule, not the scholarship law, that is unconstitutional because discriminating against religious schools would put “Montana’s Constitution in potential conflict with the U.S. Constitution.”

Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court may soon consider that very issue. In June, a plurality of the Colorado Supreme Court interpreted the state constitution’s historically anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment to prohibit the use of vouchers at religious schools. Now four educational choice organizations are asking SCOTUS to review that decision and consider striking down Blaine Amendments across the United States. The Goldwater Institute, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options, and the American Federation for Children argue that the Blaine Amendments were “motivated by bigotry” and “present an obstacle to the provision of high-quality educational opportunities for millions of American schoolchildren” that must be removed in order “to vindicate our nation’s sacred promise of equal educational opportunities.” 

Likewise, in an interview with RedefinED, Michael Bindas of the Institute for Justice argued that the First and Fourteenth Amendments forbid discriminating against religious schools. “Singling out religious schools is not even handedness,” Bindas argues. “It is discrimination.”

Louisiana: Legal Victory for a Flawed Voucher Program

In a stinging rebuke, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the U.S. Department of Justice’s “disingenuous” attempt to use a decades-old desegregation lawsuit to curb or control Louisiana’s voucher program for low-income students assigned to failing district schools. The DOJ claimed the voucher program imperiled desegregation efforts but two studies showed that the vouchers actually improved racial integration. Indeed, since the vast majority of voucher recipients are black, a victory for the DOJ would have meant keeping black students trapped in failing schools. Fortunately, the court ruled differently.

Educational choice advocates can issue three cheers for the court’s decision, but the voucher program itself deserves only one. Unfortunately, the program is hobbled by excessive regulations that are intended to guarantee quality but might actually be undermining it. For example, the state requires private schools that accept vouchers to administer state test, which drives what schools teach and even how and when they teach it. As I explained in a recent symposium on testing and educational choice at RedefinED:

First, the mandate puts significant pressure on schools to teach subjects at the same time and in a similar manner. A school that taught subjects in years that they are not tested or taught them in a manner that is not aligned with the test would be putting its students at an unnecessary disadvantage. That creates a powerful incentive to conform.

Second, such mandates drive down school participation in school choice programs. A recent American Enterprise Institute study found that states with lightly regulated school choice programs had much higher rates of school participation than highly regulated states. Nearly every private school in Arizona is willing to accept tax-credit scholarship students while only about one-third of Louisiana private schools are willing to accept voucher students due to the program’s regulatory burden.

What’s the difference between the schools that accept the vouchers with all their attached strings and those that don’t? We don’t yet know for certain, but Professor Jay P. Greene warns that it’s likely the least successful and most desperate private schools that accept the regulations:

“The only schools who are willing to do whatever the state tells them they must do are the schools that are most desperate for money,” Greene said. “If you don’t have enough kids in your private school and your finances are in bad shape, you’re in danger of closing — probably because you’re not very good — then you’re willing to do whatever the state says.”

Pelican State lawmakers should study the impact of the excessive regulations and consider modifying the law to allow private schools to administer one of the many nationally norm-referenced tests as an alternative to the state exam.

The Year of Educational Choice: The Final 2015 Tally

Here is the (likely) final tally for new and expanded choice programs in 2015, as well as the private educational choice lawsuits decided this year or still pending:

New Educational Choice Programs (8 in 7 states)

  • Arkansas: Vouchers for students with special needs.
  • Mississippi: ESAs for students with special needs.
  • Montana: Universal tax-credit scholarship law.
  • Nevada: Tax-credit scholarships for low- and middle-income students.
  • Nevada: Nearly universal ESA for students who previously attended a public school.
  • South Carolina: Voucher-like “refundable” direct tuition tax credit for students with special needs. 
  • Tennessee: ESAs for students with special needs.
  • Wisconsin: Vouchers for students with special needs.

 Expanded Educational Choice Programs (13 in 9 states)

  • Alabama: Raised the annual scholarship tax credit cap from $25 million to $30 million and raised the contribution cap from $7,500 to $50,000. However, the expansion came at a price: the legislation lowered income eligibility threshold from 275 percent of the federal poverty level to 185 percent (from about $67,000 to about $45,000 for a family of four). Current scholarship recipients are grandfathered in.
  • Arizona: Expanded ESA eligibility to include students living in Native American tribal lands.
  • Arizona: Expanded the types of businesses that can receive tax credits for donations to scholarship organizations.
  • Florida: Expanded ESA eligibility to include more categories of students with special needs and increased the budget from $18.4 million to nearly $55 million.
  • Indiana: Increased amount of tax credits available for donations to scholarship organizations ($2 million over two years).
  • Indiana: Eliminated cap on the value of each voucher. Vouchers are worth 90 percent of the state’s per-pupil funding.
  • Louisiana: Expanded school voucher program (funding roughly 600 additional vouchers).
  • North Carolina: Expanded school voucher program for low-income students ($17.6 million in 2015-16, $24.8 million in 2016-17). 
  • North Carolina: Expanded school voucher program for students with special needs(vouchers increased from $6,000 to $8,000, total funding increased by $250,000 to $3.25 million annually).  
  • Ohio: Increased the value of several categories of vouchers. 
  • Ohio: Raised the funding caps for special-needs vouchers.
  • Oklahoma: Expanded eligibility for its special-needs tax-credit scholarships and raised the tax credit value from 50 percent–tied with Indiana for the lowest in the nation–to 75 percent. 
  • Wisconsin: The state budget raises and eventually eliminates the statewide voucher cap.

Legal Challenges to Educational Choice Laws Decided in 2015

  • Alabama: The state supreme court upheld the state’s refundable scholarship tax credit law against a Blaine Amendment challenge.
  • Colorado: A plurality of the state supreme court declared that the state’s Blaine Amendment prohibits the use of public funds at religious schools. One justice held that vouchers violated other statutes.
  • Florida: A judge tossed out a procedural challenge to the legislation creating the state’s ESA program.
  • Louisiana: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the U.S. Department of Justice’s “disingenuous” attempt to use a decades-old desegregation lawsuit to curb or control the state’s voucher program.
  • North Carolina: The state supreme court upheld the state’s voucher law.

Pending Educational Choice Lawsuits

  • Alabama: Public school superintendents claim that the Alabama Accountability Act, which created the state’s refundable scholarship tax credit law (among other things), was improperly adopted by the state legislature in violation of certain provisions of the state constitution.
  • Florida: The state’s largest teachers union claims that the scholarship tax credit law violates the state’s Blaine Amendment and “uniformity” clause, which they claim bars the state from funding or otherwise aiding any school system besides the public schools. A lower-court judge previously threw out the lawsuit, but the union has appealed.
  • Florida: A public education group claims the state is failing in its constitutional duty to adequately fund public schools. They amended their lawsuit to challenge two school choice programs as well. A county circuit judge denied standing for petitioners to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s scholarship tax credit law, but allowed them to proceed with their challenge to the constitutionality of the McKay Scholarships for students with special needs. Petitioners may also present evidence that either or both programs contribute to the supposed inadequacy of the state’s funding of public education. 
  • Georgia: The Southern Education Foundation claims Georgia’s scholarship tax credit law violates the state’s Blaine Amendment.
  • Nevada: The ACLU claims Nevada’s ESA program violates the state’s Blaine Amendment and other provisions of the state constitution.
  • Nevada: A public education group, Educate Nevada Now, claims Nevada’s ESA program is improperly funded because it violates the state constitution’s requirement that the legislature fund “a uniform system of common schools,” among other provisions. The Institute for Justice is seeking intervenor status to defend Nevada’s ESA from both lawsuits.
  • Oklahoma: Plaintiffs claim Oklahoma’s voucher program for students with special needs violates the state’s Blaine Amendment.

To learn more about how educational choice benefits students — and how defenders of the status quo are attempting to use the courts to deprive families of that choice — watch the Cato Institute’s short documentary, “Live Free and Learn”:

It is distressing, at least to economists, how many problems could be solved by adopting basic free-market principles, yet those solutions are ignored or stridently opposed by the very people who would benefit from them. California’s drought is one of those: California actually has plenty of water, it is just poorly priced.

An even more pervasive problem is traffic congestion, which (according to the Texas Transportation Institute) wasted more than 3 billion gallons of fuel and nearly 7 billion hours of people’s time for a total cost of $160 billion in 2014. Brookings economist Anthony Downs wrote a whole book about congestion that concluded there was no solution to the problem–except, he noted almost parenthetically, congestion pricing which Downs decided was politically impossible. Of course, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because if no one argues for something because it’s impossible, it will truly be impossible.

Fortunately, more people are beginning to argue for congestion pricing. A November 27 report from an economic group in Canada called the Ecofiscal Commission argues that “pricing traffic congestion is critical to beating it.”

Click image to download a 13.3-MB PDF of this report.

An even more recent report, released on December 8 by the Royal Academy of Engineering, makes a similar argument for roads in Britain. The report compares a wide variety of programs, including transit improvements, smart roads, and urban redevelopment, and concludes that road pricing offers the greatest value for the money and has no net cost to taxpayers.

Click image to download a 5.5-MB PDF of this report.

One reason congestion pricing doesn’t happen is that many people see it as an attempt to force people off the roads and out of their cars. So it is disappointing that neither of these reports notes the critical finding of my Cato policy analysis on congestion pricing, which is that road pricing actually increases the capacity of roads to move people and vehicles during busy times of the day.

As the paper shows, a freeway lane can move up to 2,000 vehicles per hour at 55 miles per hour, but when traffic slows due to congestion, throughput can fall below 1,000 vehicles per hour. By preventing such traffic slowdowns, road pricing can paradoxically double road capacities during rush hour, thus giving everyone more options to get where they want to go without delay, not less.

Another obstacle to congestion pricing is that people don’t trust government. Optimally, highway managers would set prices just high enough to keep traffic flowing and use net revenues to pay for more congestion relief, not boondoggles elsewhere. Some of the most-efficiently constructed tollways in the world follow these principles.

Unfortunately, other systems have not followed these principles, giving tollroads everywhere a black eye. One of the worst is the Dulles Toll Road, which was built by the state of Virginia in 1984 and worked well for many years. Then the state gave it to the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority, which more than quadrupled tolls so it could use the surplus to subsidize the Silver Line boondoggle.

Yet one bad toll road is not an argument against congestion pricing, any more than the failure of A&P is an argument against all supermarkets. Congestion pricing is the best and may be the only way to end the fuel, time, and dollars wasted in traffic, and free-market advocates should support such pricing to solve local traffic problems.

After claiming a special expertise in foreign policy, GOP presidential wannabe Marco Rubio finds himself under fire because of his neoconservative tendencies. He’s responded in the usual way for someone whose policies would keep America perpetually at war: accuse his critics of being “isolationists.”

Trying to defend his record of supporting such disastrous misadventures as Iraq and Libya, he denounced unnamed foes who sought “to derail the postwar consensus about America’s role in the world.” This outrageous yet anonymous “they,” he added, “will never call themselves isolationists, but that is exactly what they are.”

Against Ted Cruz, the likely intended target, the claim obviously is nonsense. After all, Cruz recently proposed carpet-bombing the Islamic State.

What Rubio unintentionally illustrated was the fact that “isolationist” today has been stripped of almost all meaning to become an all-purpose epithet. Indeed, if “isolationist” means anything today, it simply is “you don’t want to intervene where I want to intervene.”

There are no isolationists in America today, or at least any seriously involved in influencing foreign policy. Even the strongest critics of Rubio’s militarism tend to promote free trade, liberal immigration, and international cooperation. That’s hardly “isolationism.”

And most everyone is for at least some military action. The number of analysts who opposed social engineering in the Balkans, nation-building in Afghanistan, democracy-promotion in Iraq, and humanitarian intervention in Libya would fill a Washington phone booth, if one could be found.

Perhaps the greatest irony is how Rubio and his fellow neoconservatives parade as internationalists even as their policies disrupt the international order. Indeed, it is a curious internationalism which views itself as in full flower when the U.S. military is bombing, invading, and occupying other nations. As I point out in National Interest online: “Anything else—diplomacy, economic sanctions, even threatening future military action—is the worst form of ‘appeasement,’ another meaningless yet all-purpose insult.”

Certainly doing nothing is utterly inconceivable. No handing off the problem to those states with the greatest interest.

A better definition for isolationist would be someone who wants America to be isolated. The starting point would be military—no alliances, of course, but also no other cooperation of any sort. There actually aren’t many of those people around, even among non-interventionists.

Next would be economic isolation, or autarchy. It’s an ancient yet stupid economic policy held by few in America, even among avowed protectionists.

Then there are people. Even Donald Trump is at most a selective isolationist in this regard, targeting Muslims, and for reasons other than an abstract desire for Americans to be alone.

Thus, it would be more helpful if Rubio dropped the name-calling and participated in a serious debate over how the U.S. should engage the world. That should begin with examining the catastrophic consequences of the military policies which he supported in Iraq and Libya.

Indeed, Rubio might discuss whether he believes peace itself to be an “isolationist” policy. For instance, he declared: “I will use American power to oppose any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace or outer space.” Any violations?

He also promised to treat as a casus belli “the economic disruptions caused when one country invades another, as well as the chaos caused by disruptions in choke points such as the South China Sea or the Strait of Hormuz.” Does that mean America has to fight any war involving any trading partner?

When it comes to Rubio, “isolationist” really means good old-fashioned common sense. Don’t go to war unless you have to. Don’t risk your own people’s lives and money in misbegotten crusades abroad.

Far from highlighting Rubio’s qualifications for the presidency, his foreign policy views demonstrate a world view which is both simplistic and dangerous. When coming from the Florida Senator, “isolationist” should be viewed as a compliment.